A New Yorker writer tells us that the sounds from his Brooklyn street include car engines, fire engine sirens, back-up truck beepers, and “unmuffled “Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Had this been the 19th century, he would have heard the clip clop of horses, the sounds of buggy wheels, the scrape of shovels cleaning manure.
Each set of sounds says something about our economy.
And now, our city streets will again have a new sound–or maybe none at all.
During 2010 Congress passed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. Concerned that electric vehicles make no sound at all, they decided cars have to be heard. So, the law says that when an EV travels slower than 18.5 MPH, it has to let us know it is nearby. Called the AVAS–Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System–, the sound is more than a safety device. Automakers have said it could be their new logo:
The big question though is which sounds? Researchers will decide if it’s best to use the internal combustion noise we are used to. Or, they could select a cacophony of “ear-cons” that would resemble the clicks of a geiger counter. Elon Musk suggested the sound of a goat for his Teslas. (Did he really mean G.O.A.T.–Greatest Of All Time?.)
Our Bottom Line: Economic Signals
As economists, we could say that some sounds remind us that consumer expenditures are close to 70 percent of the GDP. Before Apple selected silence, it chose a chime for us to hear when we hit the on button. If I said snap, crackle, and pop, you probably know I am referring to Rice Krispies. And some of us even know what plop plop fizz fizz means.
As for transport, moving from horses, to gas fueled vehicles, to EVs, transport sounds signal the direction in which our economy is driving us.
My sources and more: Thanks to The New Yorker Magazine for its so very interesting car noise article. Then, for Apple chime history, I recommend this Wired article and Insider for the return of the chime. Meanwhile Smithsonian has the Rice Krispies facts and advertisingweek tells us some Alka Selzer history. And finally, for how sound designers think, this WSJ article is perfect.
This post was slight edited after publication. (I discovered that goat could be an acronym! Smiles.)